Index of Christian Art

The library now has The Index of Christian Art, the result of a project begun by Professor Charles Rufus Morey at Princeton University in 1917. He believed that the development of Early Christian art could be more deeply understood through the study of themes rather than artistic styles, which during the Greco-Roman period were too “uniform” (more information on the ICA). From a humble beginning of a few shoe boxes of index cards he crafted an indexing system which today falls under five broad thematic groups, FiguresScenesNatureObjects, and Miscellany.

The current online database covers all additions to the collection since 1991 when digitization began and thirty percent of the items indexed before 1991. It grows yearly and the retrospective digitization will eventually bring all pre-1991 content into the database. In addition to indexing Christian art, the database contains over 60,000 images both in color and black and white. For those who need to examine content that has not been digitized, they can still go to Princeton, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Utrecht, or the Vatican to view the entire collection. The Index of Christian Art includes works of art from the early years of Christianity up through 1400 AD and recently the decision was made to expand the coverage up through the sixteenth century.

The Index of Christian Art contains three different record types, which are called “databases” or simply “bases”: Work of Art records (over 57,000), Subject records (over 28,000), and Bibliographic records (over 57,000). The Work of Art records provide detailed descriptions and links to the images. Although there are multiple ways to search and browse, I found it confusing for the novice user (myself) since it’s often hard to distinguish between the actual record types and the individual fields in the records, especially when constructing a search and interpreting the results. I trust that greater knowledge of Early Christian art and more familiarity with the database would ease this burden a little (if not, feel free to let me know). The new user should start with the Multi-Base search because it lets you search across all fields and you can select which record type you’d like to search. Your results are unambiguous: if you search Work of Art records (or Subject or Bibliography records) you’ll get just that type of record in the results set.

Index of Christian Art is a nice addition to our other art bibliographic and image databases, which can be found on the Arts & Humanities database list. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

—Fred Rowland

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